Formations 05.07.2023: The Breath of God

Francesco Salviati, Creation of Adam, 17th century

Genesis 2:4b-8

Christians usually think of the Holy Spirit as a character in the New Testament. In some ways, that is appropriate. In most Old Testament passages, references to “the spirit” (Hebrew, ruach) describe a force or emanation from God, a powerful yet impersonal presence through which God works in the world. That’s why “spirit” is usually written in lower case in the Old Testament.

Of course, the New Testament writers paint a much fuller and deeper picture of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Though we are still centuries away from the full, orthodox confession of the Holy Spirit as the Third Person of the Trinity, in the New Testament we more clearly see the Spirit acting more like a person: speaking, searching, bearing witness, interceding, and so forth.

Christian theology has long read this more personalized understanding of the Spirit back into the Old Testament. This can be done poorly, pretending that there is no distinction between Old and New Testament concepts of God’s spirit (or Spirit) But it can also be done maturely, acknowledging that in God’s unfolding revelation, the people of God gain further insights into the nature of God over time.

As we study the work of the Spirit in this unit, we’ll look at passages from both Testaments. And we’ll begin at the beginning, with the story of creation in the book of Genesis.

In this lesson, we’re told that God creates the first human being as the crowning achievement of God’s work. Unlike the creation account of Genesis 1, in which God simply speaks a word and it is so, here God plays an intimate, personal role in the work of creation. God fashions the man from the dust of the ground and “breathes” into him the breath of life.

In both Hebrew and Greek, the same word can be translated “breath,” “wind,” or “spirit.” It is fitting, therefore, that “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). God’s spirit, God’s breath, is what makes humans human. And it is something that all human beings share.

All of us, therefore, reflect something of the life of God. May God open our eyes to this truth and lead us to rejoice in our shared humanity.


• Have you ever thought about God’s Spirit (or spirit) as something that binds all humans together?
• Why do you think Christians more often speak of the Spirit as something that sets some people apart?
• In addition to Genesis 1–2, what other Scripture passages speak of the Spirit’s work in creation?
• What does it mean that God has breathed into us “the breath of life”? Is this simply biological life, or does it mean something deeper?
• In what sense has God’s Spirit touched all of creation?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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